17/05/2006
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Gosney's in Corsica

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The last time I came to Corsica I had just two days in February and spent them mostly at a site in the mountains looking for the famed Corsican Nuthatch. I found the nuthatch but had only poor views and didn't get the newly split Corsican (Citril) Finch at all. It was suggested I should have looked for the finch around the coast, where I could also get the form of Marmora's Warbler that has been split from the one we filmed in Mallorca.

So, this week, my first port of call was Barcaggio, at the most northerly point of the island. What a fantastic place - one of those quaint little fishing villages that, anywhere else in Europe, would be overrun with tourists. But this was so unspoilt, it didn't even have a shop!

Our first day was ruined by winds that made it difficult to stand, let alone film birds. I did manage to flush a few Citril Finch but not even Sardinian Warblers were poking their heads above the parapet. However, I met a french birder who showed me exactly where he'd photographed a Marmora's Warbler so I knew I was in the right place. The next day was blissfully calm but the warblers showed only fitfully. It would take several walks out to the maquis before we had reasonable footage and sound recordings.

The Citril Finches were even harder. The local french birders just gave what could be described as a Gallic shrug when asked about where to get good views of them - as if to say you don't get good views, you just see them fly over. However, we found what seemed to be a small colony in the dunes, so, after several excursions there we had some footage and some sound recordings, but with a background of crashing waves. Our last morning at Barcaggio was a final thrash to do better with both the warbler and the finch but, in several hours we didn't even manage to see either of them.

Our next mission was to go into the mountains for Corsican Nuthatch and, possibly, better views of the finches. Having failed to get these once before, we took the advice of one of the birders at the ringing station at Barcaggio and aimed for the ski centre at Haut Asco. Jackpot! A short walk from the hotel, I was sitting in a Corsican Pine forest and heard the Jay-like calls of a Nuthatch. On those steep slopes this bird could have been impossible to reach but I followed the sound to a bird right by the side of the tiny path. In fact there were two of them...going back and forth around a big old pine...they had a nest in a tree right next to the path! I got what should be great footage of a bird calling near the nest and then waited for more views. But, in the next hour both birds were silent and were hardly seen again. How lucky we'd been. Meanwhile, back at the hotel, an English birder said he'd seen Corsican Finch right by the road. We looked at the same spot and, sure enough, we had good views of a pair, duly filmed.

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The next morning we had lots more views of finches, in fantastic light and sometimes too close to be filmable. So, both target birds comprehensibly done, in an evening and morning. Well, not quite. Although we'd got sound recordings of both species, there was an all-pervading background noise of rushing water. Somehow, we'd need to find both species again, at a site with no river. But most of the known sites for the nuthatch were in the main river valleys in the mountains - surely we'd have the same problem everywhere. I DID know of one site that was high above any river - the site where I'd tried on my last visit and had only poor views of the nuthatch and no views of the finch! Was it worth a try?

So, we spent our last evening and morning at a site en route to the Col de Sorba in the centre of the island. And it was terrific. Corsican Finch was probably the commonest bird there - presumably they leave this site in winter, hence my earlier failure. Singing, calling, displaying, mating, these birds were doing all that we hoped for and, apart from the odd passing car, there were practically no background noises. Perfect. As for the Nuthatch, it took a bit more finding, but, by walking slowly and listening carefully, we located and re-located birds many times, either by their tapping sounds or by their occasional ringing calls or just by looking out for any tit-like bird in the canopy. They didn't call much but after two visits of maybe 10 hours, we had enough recordings for us to leave feeling satisfied.

That's it really, trip almost over; just hoping for a more productive ferry journey back to Nice - on the way out we had only one sighting of a shearwater in 5 hours. And maybe there'll be time enough in Nice to work out what those exotic birds are in the palm trees - it's clearly one of the introduced, feral species. Does anyone know which?

Written by: Dave Gosney